St Andrew’s Day in the West Country

St Andrew is mostly associated with the Scots but of course he was one of the major saints, so generally widespread. This is from WestCountry Treasury by Alan & Anthony Gibson:

St Andrew’s Day, like so many other saints’ days, was a splendid opportunity for all the young women to find out about their future husbands…. There is a medieval Latin prayer to St. Andrew on the subject… from at least the 17th century:

To Andrew, all the lovers and the lustie woers come,

Beleeving, through his ayde, and certain ceremonies done,

(While as they to him presented bring, and conjure all the night,

To have good lucke, and to obtain their chief and set delight.)

The “certaine ceremonies” and the “conjuring” do not appear to have been exactly innocent rites; in fact poor St Andrew seems to have acquired something of a pagan hangover.

More interesting, and less easily explained, is that St. Andrew was the great day for squirrel and owl-hunting. The object of this operation was not to catch squirrels and owls. It was an ingenious device, sheltered by ancient tradition, for  day’s poaching without penalties. This was the day…

When labourers and the lower kind of people, assembling together, from a lawless rabble, and being accoutred with guns, poles, clubs, and other such weapons, spend the greatest part of the day in parading through the woods and grounds with loud shoutings, and under presence of demolishing the squirrels, some few of which they kill, they destroy numbers of hares, pheasants, partridges, and, in short, whatever comes in their way, breaking down the hedges, and doing much other mischief, and in the evening betaking themselves to the alehouses, finish their career there, as usual with such gentry.

The growth of enclosed property, and the increased ferocity of the poaching laws, gradually put this genial occasion to an end. But as late as 1905, it was reported that there were many people living in Sussex who remembered thing part in it.

This shows how long standing religious rituals and practices became degraded after the Reformation to be ignored by the rich and exploited by the masses as a welcome excuse to misbehave and get drunk.

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